Written evidence from the Mental Health Foundation CLP0046


About the Mental Health Foundation

Since 1949, the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) has been the UK’s leading charity for everyone’s mental health. With prevention at the heart of what it does, MHF aims to find and address the sources of mental health problems so that people and communities can thrive.


Executive Summary

People living in financial difficulties or in poverty are at increased risk of mental health problems and lower mental wellbeing. People experiencing the most significant disadvantages in life face the greatest risks to their mental health.[1]

These risks have been exacerbated by the ongoing cost-of-living crisis with people cutting back on some of the very behaviours that are protective of mental health, such as getting enough sleep and maintaining connection with family and friends.[2] Polling of 6000 UK adults conducted on behalf of the Mental Health Foundation by Opinium for Mental Health Awareness Week found the most common reported cause of anxiety was being able to afford to pay bills.[3] This was reported by 32% of respondents.[4] Additionally, in a previous poll of 3000 people conducted by Opinium and commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, it was revealed that 29% of adults experienced stress, 34% experienced anxiety and 10% said they felt hopeless because of financial worries during the previous month.[5]

To alleviate the mental health effects of financial strain, the capacity of frontline social security, debt advice, and anti-poverty workers to provide a trauma-informed, mental health-aware service must be increased. Workers in frontline public sector roles must provide a supportive experience for people that does not stigmatise or cause distress. To support good public mental health financial support schemes must be implemented which prevent people from experiencing financial poverty and stress.

Additionally, we recommend that the UK Government should take a proportionate universal approach to alleviating financial strain; by taking action to benefit everyone, as well as targeted action for high risk-groups that are more likely to be disproportionately affected by the cost-of-living crisis including asylum seekers, refugees, lone parents, people with disabilities, some people from minoritised communities, and students. We discuss in our submission how asylum-seekers are refugees are particularly vulnerable to experiencing financial insecurity due to several factors unique to their specific status and call for the UK Government to better consider the needs of asylum-seekers and refugees in the context of the cost-of-living crisis.



  1. To what extent have the cost of living support payments been sufficient at helping eligible households meet the cost of essentials such as food and electricity?


An adequate income is important for helping prevent some people from experiencing poverty and financial strain. Therefore, previous commitments from the Government regarding benefit payments being upgraded in line with inflation, the increase in living wage, and one-off payments to those on benefits are to be welcomed.

As of January 2022, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported that more than half of individuals in families in receipt of Universal Credit and its predecessor legacy benefits were in poverty, with 43% of households in receipt of Universal Credit being food-insecure.[6] Moreover, the basic rate of out-of-work benefits has been at its lowest for 30 years after adjusting for inflation, while earnings have risen by more than a quarter over the same period.[7]

Furthermore, research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has outlined how poverty for families in receipt of Universal Credit or equivalent benefits remained very high in 2020/21 at 46%, and that a fifth of poor households and over a quarter of households in receipt of Universal Credit experienced food insecurity in 2020/21.[8] Moreover, in Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s latest cost of living tracker, conducted in late October and early November 2022, half of the poorest families say they have reduced spending food on adults. [9] This demonstrates that existing measures introduced do not go far enough.

The basic rate of Universal Credit must cover the cost of life’s essentials. Yet, the standard allowance of Universal Credit is only £85 a week for a single adult, at least £35 a week below a conservative estimate of what is needed to afford these essentials.[10] For people experiencing financial strain important preventative interventions could also include financial support schemes that alleviate financial stress.

Frontline workers have regular contact with individuals who may be experiencing mental distress due to financial stress. It is important to ensure that this communication is a supportive experience for people and does not stigmatise or cause distress. To help achieve this, all frontline workers in contact with people experiencing financial distress should receive relevant trauma-informed, mental health-aware training to be able to sensitively respond and signpost to support.

Research conducted by the ONS during the survey period of 25th January 2023 to 5th February 2023, found over 9 in 10 (94%) adults reported their cost of living had increased compared with a year ago.[11] The most reported reasons given by adults for the rise in their cost of living during this period was increases in the price of their food shop (95%) and their gas or electricity bills (73%). [12]

Whilst the cost-of-living crisis is affecting everyone, asylum-seekers and other high-risk groups such as refugees, lone parents, people with disabilities, minority ethnic groups, and students are particularly vulnerable to experiencing financial hardship. Asylum-seekers are unable to work whilst their asylum-claim is being processed and currently only receive £6.43 a day to live on through the Asylum Support Allowance when in self-catered accommodation, or £9.10 a week where they are housed in full board accommodation. Despite being a high risk group, asylum-seekers were excluded from the eligibility criteria of a number of cost-of-living support payments (including but not limited to): the Cost of Living support payment to support households on means-tested benefits, the Pensioner Cost of Living payment, and the Disability Cost of Living payment, due to the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) condition attached to their Visa.[13]

According to research by Citizens Advice in 2021, 81% of people with NRPF were behind on at least one bill compared to 20% people in the UK at large, nearly one in five were unable to feed themselves or their household because of the NRPF policy, and four in five people with NRPF said that this condition had a negative impact on their mental health.[14] The UK Government should ensure that future cost-of-living support payments include people subject to NRPF and where any cost-of-living support schemes exclude people with NRPF, there should be an alternative way for people with NRPF to claim the equivalent support.


  1. What role have the following factors played in access to the cost of living support payments:


    1. Passporting: Not already being in receipt of certain means-tested benefits, despite being eligible, and consequentially being prevented from accessing emergency support;

The Mental Health Foundation does not have evidence on this issue.

    1. Cliff-edges: Not being in receipt of a certain means-tested benefit, because households failed to meet certain qualifying thresholds.

The Mental Health Foundation does not have evidence on this issue.

    1. Qualifying period anomalies: issues relating to the timing of benefit payments;

During the course of the pandemic, the Mental Health Foundation conducted research on the mental health effects of financial inequalities. The research outlined that the longer-term socioeconomic impact are likely to reproduce and intensify the financial inequalities that contribute to the increased prevalence and unequal distribution of mental ill-health.[15]

In the current financial context, in which unemployment and debt may both rise, the strongly evidenced link between financial strain and poor mental health should be a core concern across government. Whilst there are a number of components to protecting the public’s mental health, we know that two of the most important are preventing poverty and ensuring people’s dignity. These principles should inform the operation of the benefits system. One change which would help protect the public’s mental health is reducing the waiting time for new claimants to receive Universal Credit to the shortest time that is administratively possible.

    1. Receiving a nil reward on a Universal Credit payment, due to reasons such as sanctioning or;

We would direct you to our answers to previous parts of this question.

    1. Any other technicality you believe the Committee should investigate?

The UK Government should review the current period for the withdrawal of Section 95 support for new refugees.

Currently, when a person is granted refugee status, they only have 28 days before their Asylum Support Allowance and housing under Section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 is withdrawn.[16] Many refugees will not have savings (as they will not have been able to build them up by working whilst they have asylum-seeker status) and there is a high risk of destitution and homelessness at this stage. This is likely to be exacerbated in the current cost-of-living crisis.

British Red Cross research has highlighted that extending the timeframe for removal of Section 95 support after refugee status is granted, from 28 days to 56 days, could help alleviate poverty amongst new refugees and benefit the UK economy by £7 million annually.[17] Allowing refugees more time to find themselves a permanent home would reduce the use of more expensive local authority temporary accommodation, saving more than £2 million a year. Preventing rough sleeping amongst refugees could save up to £3.2 million every year.[18]

Asylum-seekers currently receive £45 per week (£6.43 a day) whilst in self-catered accommodation, or £9.10 a week where they are housed in full board accommodation. This is not sufficient to meet the current cost-of-living and is sufficiently lower than other mainstream benefits including Universal Credit. In 2020, Asylum Matters surveyed over 180 asylum-seekers, asking them about their experiences with asylum support. 84% of people said they did not always have enough money to buy food.[19] In the current cost-of-living crisis, this hardship is only likely to increase further.[20] Research by Refugee Action has found that although asylum support has increased incrementally over the years, based on the prices of essential items rising, in real terms, the value of asylum support has fallen between 2008 and 2022 by 27%.[21]

The UK Government should urgently review the Asylum Support Allowance and uplift this as necessary in line with the current cost of living. Additionally, asylum-seekers have also reported a delay in receiving this allowance.[22] The Home Office should take action to ensure that this essential allowance is provided without delay when a person qualifies for this.


  1. How has the Department’s ad-hoc payment system and its design and use benefitted or limited the delivery of cost-of-living support?

The Mental Health Foundation does not have evidence on this.


  1. Are there any examples of international best practice in relation to the delivery of emergency cost of living support that the UK can learn from?

The Mental Health Foundation does not have evidence on this.



May 2023

[1] The economic case for investing in the prevention of mental health conditions in the UK | Mental Health Foundation

[2] MHF-cost-of-living-crisis-report-2023-01-12.pdf (mentalhealth.org.uk)

[3] Polling of 6000 UK adults aged 18+ was carried out by Opinium between 24 March and 3 April 2023

[4] Polling of 6000 UK adults aged 18+ was carried out by Opinium between 24 March and 3 April 2023

[5] Stress, anxiety and hopelessness over personal finances widespread across UK - new mental health survey | Mental Health Foundation

[6] MHF-cost-of-living-crisis-report-2023-01-12.pdf (mentalhealth.org.uk)

[7] Joseph Rowntree Foundation ‘UK Poverty 2022’ available at https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/ukpoverty-202

[8] UK Poverty 2023: The essential guide to understanding poverty in the UK | JRF

[9] UK Poverty 2023: The essential guide to understanding poverty in the UK | JRF

[10] Call for a landmark change to Universal Credit so people can afford the essentials - research shows overwhelming public support for new ‘Essentials Guarantee’ | JRF

[11] Impact of increased cost of living on adults across Great Britain - Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)

[12] Impact of increased cost of living on adults across Great Britain - Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)

[13] Cost of living support | NRPF (nrpfnetwork.org.uk)

[14] How do I survive now? The impact of living with No Recourse to Public Funds - Citizens Advice

[15] Coronavirus: Mental Health in the Pandemic Study | Mental Health Foundation

[16] Ceasing Section 95 Support Instruction (publishing.service.gov.uk)

[17] Refugee move-on period | British Red Cross

[18] Refugee move-on period | British Red Cross

[19] Locked-into-Poverty-Life-on-Asylum-Support-Nov-2020-Web-Ready.pdf (asylummatters.org)

[20] Asylum Matters briefing Jan 2023 - Asylum Support - FINAL.docx

[21] Asylum Support Is Not Enough - Adding 60p A Day Won't Change That - Refugee Action (refugee-action.org.uk)

[22] Preventing destitution in the UK asylum system (redcross.org.uk)